So it's 1:30 a.m. and I'm heading home from work. I drive up the hill, onto the short stretch of Highway 128 that'll take me to Simms street, where I will turn toward home. I'm a little worn from work, and feeling not entirely satisfied with my new glasses prescription, and things like that. The moon is only a day past full. The turn approaches, and I slide into the turn lane, turn on the blinker, slow down, and then slide back over and keep going. Maybe I'll just keep going I think, rather belatedly.
I want to check out Highway 128, drive past these ugly two office buildings that have forever marred the view of Long's Peak from my house, and this subdivision that sits next to them. Who would build a big block of houses up here, where there are no businesses (excluding the two offices) and no services? It's so out of place. Was it specifically to spur more development in this area, when these people decide they need a grocery store and a Walmart nearby? I leave them behind. Indiana Street and McCaslin Blvd go by. I'm out in the prairie now, thousands of acres of undeveloped land between myself and the city. It's hilly, with trees along riparian areas in the low places, and the moon illuminates it all. The road drops down a steep, long hill and climbs up the next. I remember the place and the road. There are a few trail heads along here somewhere, and my dad brought us to hike here sometimes, 5-10 years ago, maybe. I haven't been here in years, and it's beautiful.
Up ahead are the red lights on the wind turbines at the National Wind Technology Center. A few miles over to the left are the bright white lights of the former Rocky Flats plant, where triggers for nuclear weapons were made during the Cold War. I will not miss those lights when they are gone, but they leave a surprisingly good legacy: the whole prairie on my left (south) from Indiana up to Highway 93 (excluding the wind tech center), the defunct plant's 6000 acre buffer zone, are to be the Rocky Flats National Wildlife Refuge when cleanup at the plant is completed. I take a great amount of comfort in knowing the prairie I'm driving through is safe (on my right it's already protected open space). It gives one hope to think that we might take a place used to manufacture death and turn it into a place devoted to the preservation of life.
The mountains loom ahead and the Flatirons are clearly visible in the moonlight and it's beautiful. I see little turn outs now and then. I want to stop somewhere and look around, but I'm already near the end of the road -- the intersection with Highway 93 shines brightly ahead, the only street lamp for miles. I stop and wait for the green arrow and make a U-turn, and I'm totally going to stop somewhere this time. After I've gone back up that big hill, and the intersection with McCaslin is visible in the distance, I finally slow and stop on a straight stretch of road. I haven't seen another car in all this time. Probably no one has much use for Highway 128 at this time of night. I see more stars than I would at home, but many are drowned out by the moon and nearby cities. The moon is in the south, its light is everywhere. I'm a little to far to see the Flatirons now, but it's so bright, like a cool blue daylight, and I'd love to venture out into it. But if the occasional car that comes along happened to see me and decided to investigate, there could be some awkwardness, and I'm not willing to risk that. Insects are whirring all around. The air is warm, probably high 70's. City lights stretch along the horizon, south to east to north, interrupted by the grade of the hills. I can make out the blue of the arrogantly bright QWEST sign atop its building downtown. There's the towers on Lookout mountain, and an even more distant red dot marking the one on Mt. Morrison. There's a few unwelcome lights on the mountains nearby, and the windmills, and the string of twinkling white Rocky Flats lights.
But none of those places are near. This is the prairie, awash in moonlight, stirring with life. This is where I am. In places like this at times like this there is a subtle energy, which probably seems like silence if you're not listening, but which will soak into you if you let it. It permeates me. It's only a matter of time before I start howling. I learned to howl in a field study class in Montana. It turns out to be really fun and a great release. There are no wolves here, of course, so I mostly practice my coyote impression. My wolf call was often complimented by my colleagues, but to my knowledge no one has ever heard my coyote. Theirs is a dialect vastly different from wolf -- and in ways more difficult to replicate -- a chaotic chorus of barks, yips, and high pitched howls.
A car goes by every now and then and I hide from their incriminating headlights. Then, spontaneously, somewhere ahead of me in the hills of the future refuge, the real coyotes start singing. Two groups, I think, an individual or two off to my left and a group farther off straight ahead. I was thinking that if one did this often enough, one would hear a coyote eventually. There must be a dozen out there! The one to my left likes to bark his harsh bark and only howls a little bit; the other group howls a whining, quavering chorus. I love the way their voices waver while they howl. That's the most difficult element for me to get right. It's a wild sound. I join them, barking and howling (their barks are sharp and quick and loud -- it's all in the diaphragm, as is howling, mostly) and listening to them, and howling and listening some more. They stop after a minute or so.
Minutes later, they start again, I join them again. I make sounds louder than anyone I know would ever imagine me making. There's three groups in this howling session (excluding me). In addition to the two former groups there seems to be a new guy straight ahead of me and close. It's awesome. I try a few new tricks based on what I'm hearing. The sharp rise in intonation, the nasal pitch; the harsh bark. They quiet down again and I sit for a while and stand for a while and enjoy the place and time. I want to run down this road, or straight into the grass. I improvise with the howls a little, as the coyotes seem to do, but mostly enjoy the not-quiet, the insects and stars and bird -- what kind of bird could that be? -- and the occasional whisper of a breeze. Can some people truly not believe in God?
Around 2:30 I decide to howl once more and head for home. I do, and they answer, barking and trilling in their ever changing way. The landscape might look blank, passing in a car. But wild ones are roving grassy hills, calling in the dark. "Hey! I'm over here!" that one might be saying, and, "Hey! This place is ours, and there's a lot of us! This place is ours!" that group responds. I wonder how they perceive my calls, whether greeting, threat, or simple invitation to sing?
I linger a while and depart. I take the long way (as if I haven't already) by way of Indiana, up and down big hills. I see Great Western Reservoir, not a small lake by local standards, yet below the grade and invisible from most surrounding roads. I'm not sure I've ever seen it before. On the side of the road I spot a deer, a buck at that. Abundant in the mountains and foothills, you don't see them much east of the mountains. I've never seen one so close to home. A doe would be a rare enough sight -- it was a buck! Standley Lake is scenic with lights reflecting on it. Was there really three howling sessions, exactly? Was there only three groups of coyotes? The precise sound of a coyote is difficult to remember after you hear it, even as you are hearing it. It's ethereal, hard to hold in your head. I doubt a human voice could ever really mimic it; it's a wild sound.